Quotes from the Game

“So, how’s the party doing?”

“They’re dealing with the new Slayer’s disbelief”

“Apparently the normal method is to have Donald Sutherland start chucking knives at her.”

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Forging Onward

Some of you may know about the Forge, a forum for independent RPG designers.  For several years, the Forge has had some areas in which one could talk about game theory–why is it that some games work and some games don’t, what’s the difference between two die mechanics, that sort of thing.  Those bits of the site have closed, which has led to some discussion in indie-rpg circles, and it helped crystallize something I’ve been thinking about for a while.

The short version is: I don’t like the Forge, and I like its creator Ron Edwards even less.

The long version: I try hard not to look down on people for having “unsophisticated” tastes.  I think, for example, that car racing is possibly the world’s most boring activity, but that doesn’t mean that I think people who enjoy it are somehow inferior.  Ron doesn’t seem to have that circuit–that is, the one that tells him that what he likes is not the same thing as what is good, or what other people can like.

Now, before I get much further, I’d like to point out that I would dearly love to try Dogs in the Vineyard or Primetime Adventures or some of the others.  The Mountain Witch and My Life With Master strike me as unfun, but I think that has a lot to do with their settings (samurai bearding a demon in its lair and Igor And Friends Kill Frankenstein, respectively).

In any case, I can’t say how many times I saw something on the Forge that involved someone posting something they thought was fun, only to be informed that it was dysfunctional and immature (but they were still free to have “fun” with it if they liked, no one was going to stop them, oh no).  Or someone would say, “Gee, all these terribly avant-garde games you guys’re coming up with don’t really work for my group,” and someone else would reply that the first person’s group was either 1) playing the new games wrong, 2) composed of gamers (poor little things) who’d been trained into bad habits by mainstream games, or 3) both.  To which I say, bite me–could it be, instead, that your games are not the One True Way, and that people who don’t like them are, perchance, just in posession of different preferences?

Take, for example, D&D.  It’s hard to dispute that the game at its core is about killing things and taking their stuff.  One wonders why the Forge thinks that you can’t have Story in and around that.  Heck, the lack of discrete mechanisms for such things actually makes it easier, in a way: there’s no allocating of scarce Narrative Power Points or whatever, you just look at the GM and say, “I go to the entrance of the escape tunnel from the palace” and the GM, recognizing that this is cool, replies, “OK, it’s in a storefront a few blocks away.”  And yes, that’s an example from personal experience.

Then there was the Forge’s preference for the practical.  If you weren’t designing your own rpg, or at least playing one that someone one the forum had designed, your opinion, bluntly, didn’t matter.  Because, of course, no one who’s not a designer can have any insight into how games work, no matter how much they have played, right?  This one’s going to get worse now that the theory forum’s closed; if you aren’t a designer, there’s just no reason to go there anymore.  Clearly the collective wisdom of the Forge needs no further enhancement, right?  The stated reason for closing the forums is to cause theory discussion to metastitize (which I know I’ve spelled wrong), spreading out into other places on the net.  Which, yeah, sure, that’ll happen…

I suppose this isn’t very coherent, and can be justly ripped apart for that.  But I think that some of its core points are things that indie rpg designers should keep in mind: some of us like killing things and taking their stuff, at the same time that we like having drama and narrative interest.  That doesn’t make us dysfunctional, it makes us complex.

Meyers-Briggs and Gaming

So someone’s come up with a nifty way of relating the Meyers-Briggs personality test to gaming.  I thought I’d look it over and see how I fit.

I know I’m an INFP in real life, pretty strongly in all cases; I think my lowest percentage, the last time I took the test, was 64%.  (I am not going to link to a MB test–anyone with even elementary Google-fu should be able to find one.)   What about in gaming?

I/E: Introverts are those that approach a game primarily through their character. Extroverts are those who approach the game primarily through the world, setting, or situation. If you want to play in the world of Wheel of Time, you’re going the E road. If you want to play a farmer who grows into a great leader, in whatever setting, you’re going the I road.

I’m gonna say I’m I here.  While I have been known to be drawn into a cool setting, it’s usually because I’m interested in the kinds of characters one can play there, rather than because I want to explore the setting itself.

N/S: Intuitives are basically No-Mythers, and Sensers are big Mythers. If you want the game to focus on tangible, repeatable, discrete elements you’re walking the road of S. If you’re more interested in the concepts, themes, and abstracts of the game then you are embarking on the path of N.

I’m not, honestly, certain what this one means, but I think I’m an N.  Not a very strong preference, though.

T/F: This one changes very little between standard and game. If you think your way through game, want to focus on the logic, an intellectual appreciation, then you are on the Tower of T. If, otoh, you want game to be about feeling you way through, focusing on the emotionality, and having a gut level appreciation of game then you’re on the ship of F.

F, all the way.  I like logic and it’s fun to see how everything fits together, but I like emotion more, and I want to be involved with things.

J/P: Mo and I called this one Pressure (J) and Flow (P). Judging gamers want to hit it and quit it, they want discrete goals, short run games, quick closure, and games full of pressure that they can make statements about and through. Perceiving gamers want more flowing games, stories that flow into each other, long running campaigns, either no closure or closure that flows into a new story, and games that are about enjoying the flow rather than increasing the pressure.

I think I’m J here, but not very strongly.  I like long-running campaigns, but I don’t want to go forever between interesting stuff, either.  If we’re having 6 months of downtime, I want the GM to say, “OK, what do you do in the next six months?  OK.  When you get back together…”

So in gaming, InFj.

What about my characters?  They tend to be a lot more about their interactions with the world, in that they expect to have an effect on it; this leads me to suspect that most of them are usually E.  I’ve got problems enough trying to deal with my own intuition, so my characters are usually S–I don’t go for “immersion” in the sense most people seem to mean it.  The characters are usually F, though, in that they’re more likely to rely on their own sense of right and wrong than on just logic.  And I’m going to say they’re usually P, but not strongly.

Characters: ESfp
Gaming: InFj
Real Life: INFP
 
I have no idea what this means.

God, I Hope You’re Being Ironic

For me, super powers and SfX only screw things up and make the game boring. You can have very fun five hours of gaming just talking about your angst leaving your (in the game…) girlfriend. I promise.

Excuse me while I shudder.  Thanks, but no, I do not wish to play in this game.  5 minutes, sure.  But if all you’re gonna do is wank about how much your life sucks, you might as well talk about real life, because at least that way you might be working out actual issues.

Just read this post, I guess, and marvel at the arrogance and condescension that come off it in waves.  Read the bit by Ron Edwards, who manages to produce good games despite no apparent ability to distinguish between “what I like” and “what is good”:

I’ve had it with games in which the characters are specially-powered in any way whatsoever.

And yeah, I wrote games about sorcerers, magical elfs, and tall babes with horns on their heads. That’s done with.

No more. People in situations, from now on.

Explain again what it is about having extraordinary powers that makes a person any less of a person, or their situation any less of a situation?  Seems to me, from my plebian, low-class, unenlightened position, that having the powers increases the range of people and situations you can talk about–which ought to be only a good thing.  But what do I know?

The Truth, and Nothing But the Truth

I’m running a character that uses a non-PHB class, to wit the wu jen from Complete Arcane.  One of the things about this class is that, every ~3 levels, you have to pick a “taboo”, something your character isn’t allowed to do lest she lose her spellcasting ability for a day.

My problem with this is that most of the example taboos are things that you don’t, in D&D, really have to deal with.  “Oh, by the way, I never cut my hair,” you say, and voìla! your taboo for that level is fulfilled.  Even stuff like “make a small sacrifice once a day” doesn’t specify that you actually have to spend any money on it–heck, you could say that you prick your finger every day before memorizing spells, and that’d cover it.

So for Altariel’s 3rd-level taboo, I picked one I’m actually going to have to roleplay: Cannot lie.  (Note that this is in the sense of “cannot make an untrue statement”, rather than “cannot allow someone to come to the wrong conclusion based on what I say”, but still, it makes perfect sense.)  If the universe is to be expected to listen to me when I say there’s a fireball over there, I can’t go around telling lies about other things, now can I?

Serenity, the RPG

Got a look at the Serenity rpg last night.  Overall, it looked pretty cool and I was favorably impressed, but there were some nitpicks.

The system appears to be that you have some target number, which you must equal or exceed in order to do whatver you’re trying to do.   All of your attributes and skills are assigned a value by way of the size of the die you roll when you use them–that is, if you’re Jayne your brawn gets d10 and your smarts get a d4; if you’re Simon it’s vice-versa.  Bonuses and penalties happen by changing the size of the die some number of steps.  I have never encountered this mechanic before, but I rather like it; it makes it so an expert can still fail, but does so less often than a novice, and that this happens with a frequency that’s easy to see.  It’s pretty clear that someone rolling a d4 is only going to beat a 3 half the time, while someone with a d12 will do so 5 times out of 6.  I’d have to see it in play to know how well it works, but on the whole it looks promising.

I must also confess a liking for any game which includes such ads and disads as “Leaky Brainpan”, “Moneyed Individual”, and “Sweet and Cheerful”.  But this leads into one of my problems: the whole book is written in the Ole West Hick dialect, including explainations of mechanics and examples of play.  It gets gratin’ right quick, if you catch my drift.

I didn’t have time to take a thorough look at all the background info they provided, but one bit I did see was the money system.  Turns out a Firefly “credit” has about the buying power of $25, for shades of B5 (though if I recall correctly the disparity there was less).  There’s also coin, which disdains such intuitive systems as “straight decimal” in favor of something that works out to the smallest coin being worth 40 cents–it was along the lines of $25>1 credit>2.5 platinum (1 p=$10)>5 gold (1 g=$5)>62.5 silver (1 s=40 cents).  I may be misremebering, because, well, nonintuituve.  I know that the British Empire got along with a horrendously nonintuitive currency for literally a thousand years–remind me again how many shillings in a guinea?–but still.  This is gaming, I don’t want it to be accountancy too…

Lightning’s Heart

Having recently purchased Weapons of Legacy (which I shouldn’t have, because I am poor, but that’s not relevant really), I am really liking the idea of an item that gets better as you level.  The base item has to be magic, but can cost no more than 4000 gp; you have to perform a series of rituals to “unlock” the item’s powers, which you can’t do any earlier than 5th level.  These rituals are based on events that took place over the history of the item and cost money but not xp (and you have to use Knowledge (history) checks and/or spells like legend lore to find out how to perform them).   Also there are personal costs, which are in theory balanced by the powers of the item. I think Altariel needs one of these items, and given her projected career (10 levels of electrical elemental savant) it should be something that relates to electricity.

Given that standard D&D uses the 4-element system (Altariel uses a more “oriental” 5-element, in which electricity is linked to metal), I’m going to go with electricity>lightning>air>mind and use a +2 headband of intellect as the base item.  This comes in exactly at the 4000 gp limit.  Clearly, Lightning’s Heart should grant access to the Energy Substitution (electricity) feat, and there are a bunch of powers on the lists in the back of the book that fit the theme nicely: grants castings of lighning bolt, chain lightning and energy resistance some times per day, gives ability bonuses–Int in this case, of course–grants haste for some number of rounds per day, that sort of thing.  Where I’m falling down is the backstory.

Clearly, if I want a powerful item I should be willing to put in some effort for it, but I’m just totally blanking.  I hesitate to say “Can’t I just pay the gold costs and handwave it?”, but it’s awfully tempting.  The job is made more difficult by the fact that the stories in Weapons of Legacy vary between “This event caused this power” and “This character, the original owner, has a cool backstory, and by the way the item can do this nifty thing now”.

Also, neato house rule I heard lately: Epic characters (21st level and up) can’t be raised from the dead because, if they die, the gods on the planes they end up on look at them and say, “Hmmm, you’re useful; you’re sticking around.”